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Comprehensive plan update focuses on affordable housing in Riverhead Town

Some common themes were heard from those in attendance at Riverhead Town’s Comprehensive Plan update Monday night. 

Residents said very little affordable housing remains and much of the housing that’s supposed to be affordable is not. Some speakers also were critical of the lack of attendance at the meeting, the latest in a series of community meetings on the comprehensive plan update. About 25 people attended Monday, about 15 of whom were participating via Zoom. 

“I was glad to hear that there were 15 people on Zoom,” said associate broker Ike Israel of Richmond Realty Corp. “Otherwise, the turnout was horrible considering we’re in a housing crisis and the rent is too damn high.”

Connie Lassandro of Baiting Hollow, a development consultant who is currently the president of the Riverhead Chamber of Commence, voiced similar concerns.

“We’re in a crisis but look at this room, it’s pathetic,” she said. “For people so concerned about affordable housing, where are they all?”

Ms. Lassandro said she saw a one-bedroom “workforce” apartment was renting for $1,900 per month.

“How many of your kids can afford $1,900 a month rent?” she asked. “I bet zero.”

She said the cost to build is “astronomical.”

“A $400,000 home becomes a $500,000 house” by the time a down payment is made, she said.

“Is $500,000 really affordable?” she asked.

Ms. Lassandro, who was a consultant on the 116-unit Georgica Green Ventures apartments on East Main Street, said the town needs a housing advisory committee, and that she is willing to help establish it.

But Ms. Lassandro said many younger people don’t even want to own a home. They’d rather be flexible, getting up and going someplace else when their lease expires. 

On the affordable housing topic, Riverhead Town is one of five East End towns that must decide whether to have a public referendum this fall on a proposal to create a fund to generate more than $600 million for affordable housing on the East End.

The proposal would allow each of the towns to vote on whether to approve a .5% addition to a 2% real estate transfer tax approved by East End voters in 1999. The addition would create a fund for affordable housing. The existing Community Preservation Fund tax funds mostly open space and farmland preservation. 

The Town Board publicly discussed the proposal just once at a March 31 work session and board members pointed out that towns like Southampton and East Hampton have generated far more revenue from the CPF than Riverhead has.

In addition to the referendum, the town must adopt a local law establishing the fund and then create an advisory board.

Another topic discussed Monday was the 500-unit cap for apartment units on downtown Main Street and whether to extend it. The cap applies to units with a certificate of occupancy. Jefferson Murphree, the town’s building and planning administrator, said that there are about 541 units that had either been approved and built or are under review by the town.

Of that amount, he said, 187 units are considered affordable or workforce housing, while the rest are market rate. 

There are still other projects that have yet to be approved, including a proposed 170-unit market rate apartment complex on the vacant land where Sears used to be. That project, if approved, would be the largest apartment complex downtown. 

Real estate specialist Larry Oxman and Mr. Israel both favored removing the 500-unit cap. 

• A topic that was mentioned several times Monday envisioned coordinating with Peconic Bay Medical Center to identify housing needs near the hospital for assisted living and staff housing. 

The hospital purchased the former Mercy High School next door two years ago, but it has not publicly said what it plans to do with it.

Providing veterans with housing downtown and elsewhere was another suggestion discussed Monday. 

Other suggestions include working with the Business Improvement District to increase street life by attracting events downtown. The draft plan also called for supporting events on Route 58. 

• The goal statement for the draft comprehensive plan called for the town to “identify opportunities for affordable home ownership for working people; provide adequate senior housing and assisted living facilities; expand rental opportunities other than multifamily apartment buildings; provide playgrounds, parks and recreational spaces and programs for all ages; increase access to job training; and address safety and security issues and concerns and enhance crime prevention and police protection.”